Last year, online retail giant Amazon opened its first Amazon Go store in Seattle, USA.
With no queues or check outs, this trial “grab and go” store uses sophisticated shopping technology which requires customers to scan a smartphone app at entry, fill their shopping baskets and leave.
Thanks to computer visions, sensors and machine-learning algorithms each item taken from the shelf is added to a virtual shopping cart.
If an item is returned to the shelf it’s simply removed from the cart and the finally tally is charged on departure.
Deakin marketing lecturer Dr Alvin Lee says it’s inevitable that the wireless grocery store concept will eventually be available to Australian shoppers.
‘It will come here sooner or later – even if it is not Amazon that uses the technology. It saves on operating costs and eliminates the needs for checkouts. China has a variant called Hema – run by Alibaba, a much bigger company than Amazon – that uses the same concept and some say it’s even better.’
Dr Lee says automated shopping offers a more secure and improved customer experience that’s a better fit with the way Gen M transacts.
‘This concept fits with the new generation of “basket shoppers” as opposed to the older generation of “trolley shoppers”. Basket shoppers visit daily for specials and buy fresh and often. Older people who are technology-holdouts may find it challenging but they will adapt.’
But how will it impact the retail employment sector?
Dr Lee say there’ll still be a place for retail employees but the roles will be different.
‘More jobs will come through in intelligence, data and retail flow which looks at how people move through a shop. This will have implications for merchandising and what stores can do to catch our attention and fill up our baskets,’ he says.
Professor Pasquale Sgro, Head of the Department of Economics, says the impact on employment will depend on the success of Amazon Go and also the general degree of automation and online sales with the company’s book distribution.
‘A number of local bookshops have moved to include online sales and the degree of competition with Amazon will come down to price. The effect on the total number of retail jobs, as we know them, will depend. There may be a substitution and subsequent reduction of jobs from “front of house to warehouse”. The “good” bookshops will survive and provide employment and a level of service we expect. The overall impact will take a few years to work through.’
The evolution of self-service began several decades ago (with the introduction of ATMs) and as consumers demand greater choice and flexibility, technology will continue to change the way retail outlets operate and interact with their clients.
‘We’ve taken to the self-serve check-outs in a big way,’ says Dr Lee, ‘and the Amazon Go concept in shopping is the logical next step.’